In his first term, Wilson had legislative accomplishments more popular than Obama's. A partisan Democratic Congress passed a new antitrust act, created the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Reserve, lowered trade barriers and imposed an income tax on high earners.
When Americans voted in November 1916, World War I had been raging in Europe for more than two years. Hundreds of thousands were dying in trench warfare, and Wilson ran on the slogan of, "He kept us out of war."
Wilson's second term was wholly unlike his first. In April 1917, he went before Congress and got approval for a declaration of war against Germany. A military draft was instituted, a law passed criminalizing antiwar protests, the railroads were nationalized, and the top income tax rate was raised to 77 percent.
Wilson's idealistic postwar plans were frustrated in the Treaty of Versailles, which was rejected by the Senate. Revolutionaries set off bombs on Wall Street and outside the attorney general's house. Wilson's party lost the 1920 election by a 60 to 34 percent margin.
This history is unlikely to be repeated if Obama is re-elected. But Obama's problem, apparent in the feisty second presidential debate as well as the first, is that voters don't know what he will do -- beyond what he has done so far -- in a second term.
His specific proposals -- 100,000 teachers, infrastructure "investment" -- are retreads. He is less specific on tax policy and budget deficits than Romney.
Presidents who get re-elected usually offer second term agendas. Obama hasn't, especially on the economy. As a re-elected president, he will be as free of constraints, as Wilson was.
Voters must hope that a second Obama term won't be as disastrous as the second Wilson term. Democrats must hope it's not as disastrous for their party.
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